Sir Reginald Poulton Biddle
One of the boats sent to Jersey by Reginald Biddle prepares to leave St Helier Harbour loaded with evacuees
Jerseyman Reginald Poulton Biddle left the island as a teenager to work for Southern Railway in Southampton and served in the Army during the Great War. Back with Southern Railway as the head of their Southampton operations in 1940, he found himself supervising the evacuation of civilians from the Channel Islands in the days before the German invasion.
He was made a CBE and knighted for'public services in Southampton' when he retired in 1956.
The son of Alfred and Isabella Rachel, nee Osmont, he was born in Jersey in 1888. His career with Southern Railway started in 1905, but it is not clear whether he first worked for them in Jersey and was later transferred to Southampton. His father worked for the rival London and South Western Railway Company as a clerk in Jersey.
The 1911 census shows him working as a railway clerk, living with the Ditchburn family in Portswood Road, Southampton, as a boarder.
During the First World War he served with the 2nd/5th Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment, attaining the rank of Captain.
In 1922, at the age of 33, he married Kathleen Baker, 11 years his junior, at St Luke's Church in Jersey. He was living in Southampton again, his occupation described in the marriage record as 'secretary'. His wife was the youngest of six children of draper Frederick Baker, who founded the Queen Street store Frederick Baker and Sons.
In 1935 Biddle was appointed Docks and Marine Manager at Southampton and in 1940 he was Deputy Director of Ports at the Ministry of War Transport. It fell to him to help organise the evacuation of civilians from the Channel Islands in the period before the German invasion.
He wrote about the events of June 1940:
- "The night of June 19-20 was a busy one. Special and immediate measures had to be taken to send all available and suitable tonnage to the Channel Islands to bring away those who desired to leave.
- "The whole of the resources of the Railway Company's staff and facilities were unreservedly placed at the disposal of the local authorities. Entirely on my own initiative I sent some of the Southern Railway Company’s steamers to the islands. They had only peacetime certificates to carry 12 pasengers but between them they brought over nearly 3,000 evacuees.
- "The evening of Wednesday 18 June in Jersey, and no doubt in Guernsey, saw much chaos and confusion. The worst was expected at any moment. Indeed, I was told in a telephone message from Jersey at 10 o'clock that the Germans were expected to arrive the next morning, and what was I going to do about it?
- "I endeavoured to create an atmosphere of greater calm by the information that the steamers referred to above had already sailed.
- "My own staff in Jersey were not unnaturally anxious about their families and within an hour or two yet another steamer had been commissioned and had sailed for Jersey. The number of telephone messages I received for news of people in Jersey and for particulars of the evacuation arrangement was astronomical.
- "On the Saturday there were steamers alongside the quays at Jersey but only a few evacuees presented themselves for embarkation, whereas at Guernsey there were literally thousands waiting at the harbour and insufficient vessels to deal with them.
- "Arrangements were made to make public announcements in the streets of St Helier, and by various other means, that ships were waiting at the quay, but in the late afternoon it was decided to send them to Guernsey, where they were immediately besieged by waiting passengers.
- "It would appear that of nearly 20,000 who registered under the Jersey States evacuation scheme, not more than 10,000 availed themselves of the facilities, whereas at Guernsey the original number of 13,000 registered quickly rose to 20,000, all of whom had been embarked by the Sunday night.
- "It was very desirable, in order to maintain an atmosphere of confidence in those who had decided to remain in the islands, for the mailboat service to and from the islands to be continued as long as circumstances permitted. This was the wish of the government on this side and the Southern Railway agreed on the understanding that they would be kept advised of developments. With great courage and a loyal sense of duty the staff in Jersey readily agreed to continue at their posts. It was a bitter disappointment that the subsequent march of events developed with such tragic suddenness that those splendid fellows were unable to leave the island. They set a fine example which will never be forgotten."
Biddle was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (year not known) and Knighted in the Queen's 1957 Birthday Honours for 'public services in Southampton' a year after his retirement. In March that year he travelled to New York and back on the Queen Mary.